If Al wasn’t born with the skill, he learned quickly to get along with all kinds. He didn’t rely on intermediaries, just as he doesn’t allow proofreaders or editors to get between him and readers of this book. Non sequiturs, mixed metaphors, inexplicable exclamations and unintentionally droll observations are pure Al. As comedians say, it’s Al in the raw. Unlinked from anything that comes before or after, his sentences become sparkling gems of revelation. Dwell on them for a moment and let Al Dixon take shape.
“When I was secretary of state, I was in charge of the issuance of auto license plates. One of the remarkable facts about people is that many enjoy low-number plates or any type of vanity plate.”
“It’s funny about the things one remembers when one thinks back. Grandpa shaved with a straight razor. As for grandma, she made the best damn brownies I’d ever eaten.”
“Memories of 1980 invariably involve the acid rain issue, the fate of Illinois coal, and Paul Simon’s re-election issue.”
“I want Dan Quayle to know I speak well of him. And, I’d sure like to have his golf swing.”
“This impasse will not prevail.”
The Slaughter-jewelry story-Tony Bonnelle’s is practically “War and Peace” in its complexity. It’s just one of the many examples of Dixon’s writing making multiple connections that keep going.
Dixonian should enter the vocabulary. And besides, Illinois politics is about connections, not literary merit. The local string pullers found 21-year-old Al and slated him to run for police magistrate on the winning Better Belleville ticket. He never looked back. Like Bryce Harper stretching a single into a double, Al stretched that first job into a career home run that carried him through the state legislature and then to statewide office and finally 12 years in the Senate. As Al might say, or rather exclaim, that’s good hitting for a man whose first love is golf!
Not that Al’s love of people blinded him to moral quandary. As police magistrate in Belleville, for example, he discovered that he didn’t get paid unless he found the defendant guilty and assessed a fine. Actually, in Al’s telling, it was more of a financial quandary but he did at least point out the problem to the city council. And 13 years later, state legislator Al helped overhaul the judicial system.
Being from Illinois, Al knew some operators. It’s a state, after all, where politicians really do have convictions. He also knew a disturbing number of people who killed themselves. But Al wouldn’t be Al if he was the type to succumb to melancholy. The arena of public service calls for a smile and congenital optimism. Armed with both, Al moves up the ladder and, in 1980, into the U.S. Senate.
True to form, Al’s personality made him many friends in the Senate: Robert C. Byrd, Jennings Randolph, Christopher J. Dodd, George Mitchell, David Pryor, Charles Percy, Barry Goldwater, Trent Lott, John Danforth, Howard Baker, Dan Quayle, Daniel K. Inouye, Thomas Eagleton, Sam Nunn, Jesse Helms. Remarkable men, all of them, for one reason or another. Not Howard Metzenbaum, though. Al never cared much for Metz, as he says.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.